Crying from a Life Raft: A request of my white Christian brothers

Less than a week ago, I sat in the backwoods of West Virginia on fall retreat and listened to a pastor explain how we as Christians could understand God better when we live in community. He used his knowledge of his wife to illustrate. He thought he had known her very well as they were dating and subsequently married without kids but confessed he discovered sides to her when his kids were born that he had never seen before. Their children, her parents, her college friends and her work colleagues brought out a side of her he hadn’t known. His point was that we need other people to see parts of God that we would never see on our own.

Three days later, America elected Donald Trump as president. I think it’s safe to say that nearly everyone was shocked and there were likely as many responses to the news as there are individuals. Around 9 pm, as what was about to happen sunk in, I began to cry. I’d spent the past two days reading uplifting stories from Pantsuit Nation, the “secret” facebook group for Hillary supporters, about people and their hopes for the election. I imagined their tears. I’d spent the previous years watching the country descend into more and more blatant hate and disregard for certain sections of its citizenry. I’d signed petitions for this issue and that issue. I’d heard stories from other hyphenated Americans about their struggles, I knew of hurtful things being done to people of different sexual orientations and religious backgrounds. My mind filled with stories about people being mocked, discriminated against, and mistreated and my heart hoped for a better future. I stood with them. As a minority, it is easy for me to empathize with the struggles of other minority groups because in many ways they are my own, are a part of my heritage or are things that I fear. The moment I realized that the gates of hatred toward them had been opened in the destigmatizing of those behaviors by electing someone who has exhibited them all, I felt terror for my neighbor and I wept.

If none of those people’s struggles has ever been yours, I can see why you’d say move along.

I wasn’t being a sore loser. I did not lose hope in God’s unfailing love or sovereignty, but I recognize that God has been sovereign even when that meant it was ok to have slaves or people were lynched, or it was illegal for people of two different races to marry. Toward the end of the famous passage about people of faith in Hebrews 11, we read about people being tortured, sawed in two, killed by the sword. This happened in spite of their hope being in the Lord.

I did lose in the election, the person I voted for didn’t win. I suppose that is something to be disappointed about. But, in a way, we all did, and that is worth grieving.

As I watched white male after white male remind everyone that our hope is in God and essentially tell me to move on, I got increasingly frustrated. How easy for them to say when this would only at best inconvenience their lives. This stance was more easily taken from a position of privilege and relative safety. If you were wailing for yourself because you lost and you are not a person of color, of a different religion, differently abled or any other of the categories of people regularly under attack, I agree—dry your eyes, move along. But, if you despair for the future of your neighbors, don’t rush that.

If you were watching a boat sink from a life raft and one of the people on the raft with you turned around and cried for the people who wouldn’t make it off the boat, would you tell them to quit their crying and be happy they’re going to be safe? Or do you learn what they’re crying about take a second look, not thinking about what the situation means for you, and mourn for the non-survivors.

You can think I’m being alarmist, but there will be casualties and critically wounded from a Trump presidency. Maybe not from Trump himself, and maybe not from his policies, but from the actions of those emboldened by his ascent. It started even before the first vote was cast and has only grown bolder.

Even as I type this, I realize that many of those who voted for Trump may be the people  sinking on the boat and they just wanted the raft he appeared to promise. I sincerely hope that they get one. I really do. And I’m sorry that I didn’t see them earlier because yes, God cares for the poor whether they are urban, suburban, rural, white, black, or other. He also has compassion for the immigrant, the cripple, the Gentile, the tax collectors, the woman at the well, and the likes of the adulterer who Jesus saved from being stoned. In the cases where these people’s lifestyles went against God’s will, he does not excuse them but he does not abuse them either.

Take for example the story of the good Samaritan. A man comes to Jesus asking how he can inherit eternal life and when Jesus asks him what he thinks he answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” then he asks who is his neighbor.

Jesus follows with a story about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked, stripped of his clothes, beaten, and left half dead. A priest passed him on the road and crossed to continue walking on the other side of the street. Next a Levite, a Jewish person with special religious duties, did the same. Finally, a Samaritan comes to the rescue. Not the religious folks, they had religious things to do and couldn’t get themselves dirty helping a bloodied man but a Samaritan. The people that the religious crowd Jesus had as his audience hated were the hero of the story. Those the Jews considered enemies dared to care for their neighbor when the priest and temple worker couldn’t be bothered.

If the tears of the people who will bear the brunt of the fallout from Trump’s presidency don’t reach your ears, perhaps that is not a part of God’s heart you know. Psalm 10:14 says, “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.” Have you considered that there are those in your community who reflect God’s character in this way, have stood with them and understood them, and sought to learn from that? Or do you rush to dismiss their tears as a lack of hope in God? And by the way, if you think that hope in God doesn’t mean that America could still lose its pre-eminence in the world and markets can’t crash and I couldn’t be attacked on the street, take a second look at what hope is about. Hope never keeps us from suffering, it just repurposes it.

When Christians see the persecution of the church around the world we are grateful to live in a country where that’s not the case. And yet, it doesn’t keep us from crying out for our brothers and sisters, people we feel connected to, because we don’t want it for them either.

As a black person, I belong to a group that was denied equal legal privilege to marry as I wished until the 60s, that was not originally considered a whole person, and that was and is frequently the target of hate. As a former missionary, I know what it’s like for my religion to be demonized, to be kept from worshipping as I desire, to learn in school that all my religion ever did in the world was bring evil. Don’t even get me started on what I’ve experienced as a woman. Just like Jesus left heaven to enter our world so that he might be able to sympathize with us, these are the worlds I have been granted entry to—and not by accident—in order to sympathize with those who dwell in them as well.

So, white (Christian) men, stop telling me not to be sad on behalf of people’s new realities that are different from your own. And to every Samaritan who, though you have no reason to, has entered into the worlds of the marginalized to understand these perspectives, thank you.

I write this aware I have blind spots, grappling with the things that I’m seeing about myself and God because of my anger toward the people who made this possible, praying for humility and welcoming correction. There are people whose struggles I don’t understand and I want to learn about theirs as well.

During the retreat, one of the ice-breaker questions I asked my group was what was the best compliment and the worst insult you could receive. I said the worst thing anyone could say about me was that someone struggled alongside me and I didn’t see it because I was wrapped up in my own stuff and self-absorbed. Three days later, America elected Donald Trump. The struggle is real and is felt by many and I don’t just want to stand with and grieve for those who will be physically and verbally assaulted and mistreated because certain groups of people may now feel they have license to attack others, but also want to understand the people who made this moment of reckoning possible.

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